Review: The Gauntlet

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Cora and her friends have escaped the Kindred station and landed at Armstrong—a supposed safe haven on a small moon—where they plan to regroup and figure out how to win the Gauntlet, the challenging competition to prove humanity’s intelligence and set them free. But Armstrong is no paradise; ruled by a power-hungry sheriff, it’s a violent world where the teens are enslaved and put to work in mines. As Nok’s due date grows closer, and Mali and Leon journey across space to rescue Cassian, the former inhabitants of the cage are up against impossible odds.

With the whole universe at stake, Cora will do whatever it takes, including pushing her body and mind to the breaking point, to escape Armstrong and run the Gauntlet. But it isn’t just a deranged sheriff she has to overcome: the other intelligent species—the Axion, Kindred, Gatherers, and Mosca—all have their own reasons to stop her. Not knowing who to trust, Cora must rely on her own instincts to win the competition, which could change the world—though it might destroy her in the process.

I did not reread the previous two books before I started this finale, and it left me feeling very unconnected with the characters, or interested really. I was not in the mood for this type of book when I picked it up, and I know that affected my view of it because I enjoyed the previous two in the series, as well as Shepherd’s other series.

This picks right back up from where the second one left off and I felt a little lost at first, but pretty quickly got back into the swing of events and the new goal. The time spent on the moon with the human colony didn’t make much sense to me until towards the end of the book. I felt like we were wasting time in the beginning and I think there could have been some altering to the timeline to pick up on what our main threat was faster. When the twist is revealed and we find out what the main threat is, it brings in a whole other layer of subterfuge, and I would have loved to see that revelation earlier in this book.

Though I was a bit underwhelmed with the pace of this finale, I was pleased with the amounts of growth all of the characters are going through. Leon is finally seeing himself as a good guy and trying to act like one; Rolf and Nok have let go of their selfish naivety and are taking on leadership roles; and in general they all coming full circle, learning how to use their best skills to represent humanity and achieve the goals needed in their own personal and group challenges.

While I had hoped Cassian would have a larger role in this, when he is back I really enjoyed the interactions between him and all of the group. The end of this was bittersweet, but it really fit with all of the characters and their personalities. I would have loved an epilogue though!

Overall this was a satisfying ending to a good series. I think I will enjoy it better on the second go around.

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Review: Gemina

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Goodreads Summary:

Moving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed.

The sci-fi saga that began with the breakout bestseller Illuminae continues on board the Jump Station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of the BeiTech assault.

Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter; Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.

When an elite BeiTech strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station’s wormhole means the space-time continuum might be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival; the fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly the known universe—is in their hands.

But relax. They’ve totally got this. They hope.

Once again told through a compelling dossier of emails, IMs, classified files, transcripts, and schematics, Gemina raises the stakes of the Illuminae Files, hurling readers into an enthralling new story that will leave them breathless.

I really enjoyed the first installment of this series, Illuminae, but I am always hesitant when new characters are introduced into a series. I saw Kristoff assured readers that Kady and Ezra from the first book would be very present in this, well no. They were there for about the last 75 pages, as acting characters. As we are dealing with Kady’s dad in this story for a lot of the time though you could say she’s there in spirit.

I didn’t really like Hanna at the start of this. She’s spoiled, obsessed with her handsome boyfriend, and a party girl. Nik was interesting from the start though and I enjoyed his snark, honesty, and relationship with his cousin.

Once the action starts to pick up though we start to see how capable, intelligent, and caring Hanna is. And let me tell you, there are two major plot twists that had me going “WHAT!!” which was so much fun. And the body count, while less than in Illuminae, is still pretty high in this one, but at least we know who our enemy is and why they are there. Our secondary enemy though was a really interesting aspect, and super creepy.

I really enjoyed watching the dynamic between Hanna and Nik, they start the story as a dealer and his customer, become unintentional allies, and then become maybe something more. They are the only hopes to save as many lives as possible, and while helping each other through this impossible task they go through emotional and physical stressors that only the other will understand and provide each other comfort and motivation to keep pressing forward with their goals.

While the romantic relationship between Hanna and Nik isn’t as stable as that of Kady and Ezra, I think it has potential to solidify in the last book. Neither one of them are the shallow stereotypical characters we think them to be at the start of the book, and I never felt that Hanna and her original boyfriend had more of a connection beyond a physical one. The Sci-Fi and action elements of this book though are top notch, it was so much fun and fast paced.

I am very much looking forward to finishing this series, and can’t wait to see how the motley gang gets themselves out of this last mess BiTech stuck them in.

Review: Under the Never Sky

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Aria is a teenager in the enclosed city of Reverie. Like all Dwellers, she spends her time with friends in virtual environments, called Realms, accessed through an eyepiece called a Smarteye. Aria enjoys the Realms and the easy life in Reverie. When she is forced out of the pod for a crime she did not commit, she believes her death is imminent. The outside world is known as The Death Shop, with danger in every direction.

As an Outsider, Perry has always known hunger, vicious predators, and violent energy storms from the swirling electrified atmosphere called the Aether. A bit of an outcast even among his hunting tribe, Perry withstands these daily tests with his exceptional abilities, as he is gifted with powerful senses that enable him to scent danger, food and even human emotions.

They come together reluctantly, for Aria must depend on Perry, whom she considers a barbarian, to help her get back to Reverie, while Perry needs Aria to help unravel the mystery of his beloved nephew’s abduction by the Dwellers. Together they embark on a journey challenged as much by their prejudices as by encounters with cannibals and wolves. But to their surprise, Aria and Perry forge an unlikely love – one that will forever change the fate of all who live UNDER THE NEVER SKY

The first book in a captivating trilogy, Veronica Rossi’s enthralling debut sweeps you into an unforgettable adventure

Like the synopsis, the book holds this strange, choppy writing style. It’s a little hard to get through in the beginning, but about a third of the way through the action picks up, the characters start to develop, and the writing style starts to gel. There is a lack of world building in this first installment, but the bond that starts to form between Aria and Perry, as well as the mysteries of the Aether, the senses some inherit, and the strange lives led within the Pods keep this an entertaining and enjoyable read.

The character development is really the star of this book. It’s so well done and believable. There is no intsa-love, or 180 flips of characters beliefs, but a gradual shedding of ignorance and mutual shows of empathy and understanding. Our characters are faced with the one thing they are raised to mistrust – each other – and it’s really interesting watching them move past preconceived notions to see each other as people and learn to respect and care for one another.

Overall, this first book has poor world building, but the depth of the characters made up for it, or at least distracted from it. This is all about the characters growing, forging bonds, and setting us up for the real drama that will follow in the other two books. And while this sometimes doesn’t work, the characters are fantastic enough to pull it off in this kickoff to a fun and swoony series.

Review: Nil on Fire

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Despite Rives and Skye’s attempt to destroy Nil, the island remains. And back in this world, Nil won’t let Skye go. Haunted by a darkness she can’t ignore, Skye wrestles with Nil nightmares that worsen by the day and threaten to tear her apart. As the island grows in power, Skye fights to keep her mind intact. Soon Skye realizes that to finally break free of Nil, she must end Nil’s vicious cycle once and for all–and she can’t do it alone.

Who will return to Nil, and in the end, who will survive? In this thrilling final installment of the Nil series, the stakes have never been higher: everyone’s fate hangs in the balance, including Nil’s own–and Nil will fight to the death. When the full force of the island is unleashed, Skye faces an impossible choice, a cruel one she’d never imagined she’d have to make. As the island’s clock ticks away, one Nil truth becomes painfully clear: only one side can win.

Losing isn’t an option, but winning will cost Skye everything.

I had issues with this finale. I remember enjoying the second book well enough, but I was so annoyed by Skye in this last book. And Rives. And the “All you need is love” ideal that seemed to drive them. Ya, it worked in Harry Potter, but this was not HP.

I did really enjoy the new characters on the island, and I think if the book had focused more on them, and used Skye as more of a support character, I would have like this a lot more. I just felt like Skye and Rives said and did and thought the same things over and over again. Their story, like that of Charley and Thad, was pretty resolved in one book. If Matson had stuck to her ‘new protagonist but old characters still play a role’ style it would have worked a lot better.

Nil as a character also underwhelmed me in this. The split personality it exhibited was interesting, but I still found myself skimming its segments, along with a lot of Skye and Rives appearances as well.

Overall, I felt like it was too repetitive, and could have been wrapped up in the second book since we didn’t really focus too much on the new characters. I also thought it was a little dramatic with Nil and it’s reasons or whatever.

Honestly, this series got worse for me the farther I got into it. I’m glad I finished the story though and reached a solid conclusion.

Review: The Last Star

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Goodreads Synopsis:

The enemy is Other. The enemy is us.

They’re down here, they’re up there, they’re nowhere. They want the Earth, they want us to have it. They came to wipe us out, they came to save us.

But beneath these riddles lies one truth: Cassie has been betrayed. So has Ringer. Zombie. Nugget. And all 7.5 billion people who used to live on our planet. Betrayed first by the Others, and now by ourselves.

In these last days, Earth’s remaining survivors will need to decide what’s more important: saving themselves…or saving what makes us human.

I have been a lover of this series from the beginning. The first book left me aching for more, the second left me in a tail spin of revelations and emotions. So it’s only suitable that the finale leaves me with a sense of broken victory.

Yancey has done so well with this series, keeping it focused on the issue at hand – the extinction of humanity and the efforts of those left to save it – while giving us a great cast of characters who illustrate all of the various shades of what humanity means. While faced with these challenges his characters also give us raw emotion, humor, and a maturity that is able to avoid the ‘special snowflake’ trope.

Honestly, I should have re-read The Infinite Sea, but I didn’t want to wait that long to get into TLS, and I thought it would all come back to me. Well, I remember Ringer’s experience the best from the sequel so I was good with her, but I have to admit I was a bit lacking in the events of Cassie/Evan/Ben. However, since the revelations of the second book were so huge, I was still on track with the goals of this last installment.

Once we get familiar to the new setting and how our characters have been handling their short recuperation time, this book launches into a fast paced and twisty-turny series of events that lead to the only resolution possible, but one that I didn’t see coming till too late. I think Yancey handled his ending perfectly. Unlike other authors this felt right, it felt like the only answer, and it felt real. I also loved the epilogue, it gives us our characters trying to continue to fight this deep seeded distrust the war has embedded into society, while attempting to create a new bubble of humanity within their group. Nothing is tied up in a neat little bow, the war is still going on and it will for generations, but everything is resolved.

Honestly, a perfect ending to a practically perfect series.

Review: The Hunt

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Goodreads Synopsis:

The Maze Runner meets Scott Westerfeld in the second novel in this gripping and romantic YA series about teens abducted from Earth by an otherworldly race—from Megan Shepherd, the acclaimed author of the Madman’s Daughter series.

They’ve left the cage—but they’re not free yet.

After their failed escape attempt, Cora, Lucky, and Mali have been demoted to the lowest level of human captives and placed in a safari-themed environment called the Hunt, along with wild animals and other human outcasts. They must serve new Kindred masters—Cora as a lounge singer, Lucky as an animal wrangler, and Mali as a safari guide—and follow new rules or face dangerous consequences. Meanwhile, Nok and Rolf have been moved into an enormous dollhouse, observed around the clock by Kindred scientists interested in Nok’s pregnancy. And Leon, the only one who successfully escaped, has teamed up with villainous Mosca black-market traders.

The former inhabitants of the Cage are threatened on all fronts—and maybe worst of all, one of the Hunt’s Kindred safari guests begins to play a twisted game of cat and mouse with Cora. Separated and constantly under watch, she and the others must struggle to stay alive, never mind find a way back to each other. When Cassian secretly offers to train Cora to develop her psychic abilities—to prove the worthiness of humanity in a series of tests called the Gauntlet—she’ll have to decide fast if she dares to trust the Kindred who betrayed her, or if she can forge her own way to freedom.

While the first book in the series stays close to the questions of insanity we saw in Shepherd’s first series, this book moves beyond that to test the mettle of all the characters we got to know in The Cage. I really enjoyed watching them move beyond the various forms of madness they all experienced in the first book. They each draw a new strength from what happened to them in the habitat and in the aftermath of escaping. This brings us such a broader sequel, no longer is the only focus on their habitat and the 6 of them, but on the overall treatment of humans in this Kindred world, and what they are willing to do about that.

It seemed to me Cora was having a much harder time in this installment than the rest of the characters, but she did have them most emotionally scaring ramifications from the events of the first book. It was interesting watching her try to navigate who to trust in this round, and how willing she would be to forgive, and to work beyond herself and her 5 habitat buddies. For me Lucky really became the hero of this book, he finally took on the role of moral guide that he had failed to do in the first book. However, everyone really stepped up their game. I loved watching Leon become a central pillar to the gang and their success, watching Rolf and Nok mature, and seeing more of Mali under all her mysterious layers.

I loved Cassian from the beginning of this series, he is such an interesting character. Well, he just gets better in this, in my opinion. We see more of him uncloaked and see how similar he really is to the humans he is fighting for. I loved that he and Cora finally united, and am so eager to see where their relationship goes based on how this ended. There are so many new possibilities/challenges introduced in the last couple chapters and I have no idea how the entire cast is going to be able to achieve all their goals.

Can’t wait for the 3rd book!

Revisiting: The Cage

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Re-reading this, and my previous review, I don’t really have much to add. I was still just as enamored of the world as I was the first time I read this through.

I guess the only thing that I really felt myself questioning was that, knowing the twist in the end, I didn’t really see any links that made it make sense. If that sentence even made sense. I guess for the general purpose of the experiment I can understand, but I also feel like it was kind of a split personality for the character it centered on – he was the one he wanted to be when presented to us, and the one he was required to be when hidden from us?  

Anyway, still really enjoyed this re-read. 

Goodreads Summary:

When Cora Mason wakes in a desert, she doesn’t know where she is or who put her there. As she explores, she finds an impossible mix of environments—tundra next to desert, farm next to jungle, and a strangely empty town cobbled together from different cultures—all watched over by eerie black windows. And she isn’t alone.

Four other teenagers have also been taken: a beautiful model, a tattooed smuggler, a secretive genius, and an army brat who seems to know too much about Cora’s past. None of them have a clue as to what happened, and all of them have secrets. As the unlikely group struggles for leadership, they slowly start to trust each other. But when their mysterious jailer—a handsome young guard called Cassian—appears, they realize that their captivity is more terrifying than they could ever imagine: Their captors aren’t from Earth. And they have taken the five teenagers for an otherworldly zoo—where the exhibits are humans.

As a forbidden attraction develops between Cora and Cassian, she realizes that her best chance of escape might be in the arms of her own jailer—though that would mean leaving the others behind. Can Cora manage to save herself and her companions? And if so . . . what world lies beyond the walls of their cage?

There are a lot of mixed reviews on Goodreads about this book, but personally, I thoroughly enjoyed it!

This is such a different alien story than other that I have read. There is the usual attraction between the alien and human, but it is so different, neither of them turn against their own people or abandon their core beliefs of what humanity is. And the way it ends! Oh my goodness there was a twist I didn’t see coming!

The other characters were all really interesting in their own ways as well. I started out liking Lucky and Rolf and disliked them to certain degrees as we got deeper into the book, then they both redeemed themselves a bit. Then there was Nok, who I didn’t like or trust from the beginning and was proven right about. And then there was Leon, who seemed like he’d be the stereotypical bully but ended up extremely complex and I enjoyed every time we got to hear from him. Mali, I don’t even know how I feel about her but she’s definitely an important one.

I loved how Shepherd mapped out how twisted all the characters were becoming. I didn’t know who was crazy and who was sane at moments. And while Cora was pretty rash sometimes, I sympathized with her the entire time and loved how determined she was to not be a victim. She had let so many things slide in her life and had grown accustomed to doing what others said that I really appreciated that when she decided to be strong she didn’t let it go. And as we learned more about her past it became clear that she had always had that strength and it wasn’t a stretch for her at all.

Cassian is so interesting. His interest in humans and their humanity is really intriguing considering what his people value in society. And when we bring in the evolution of the people in the cages it just gets more complex. I can’t wait to see what happens between he and Cora in the next books, I think it’s going to be a hard road for them, but I have faith because I really like them together.

The “love triangle” in this was also really well done. As well as the general originality of it all, the world building was fantastic and the character development so interesting. Overall, another great book from Shepherd.